How to find your niche for a martech solution

Marketers are usually well-aware of what solution they need to cover their needs and solve their problems at work. However, when it comes to the actual development, things become trickier.

It’s hard enough to find product market fit from the first try and validate your idea. It’s even harder to find the right technologies while struggling through common miscommunications with your developers.

In this essay, I want to share my discoveries, mistakes, and overall personal experience as a marketer who decided to build a martech solution and needed to dive into the tech side of things.

The backstory

I was working as a marketer in a software company that was selling package solutions (software + hardware) and implementing them into organizations from different industries.

We spliced software with hardware, engineers designed it according to the needs of each customer. We had many suppliers of hardware and software and organized big events a couple of times a year for them to sell all their cool solutions.

At the events, we talked about new technologies and use cases and invited people from various industries to attend the event.  As a marketer responsible for organization, I had a simple yet hard-to-achieve goal in mind. I needed to sell as many solutions to as many people as possible in a short time. I had only two days of the conference to do so, and the number of vendors I needed to approach for that was enormous.

Defining the problem

Even if I am on a tough schedule, I won’t manage to reach my goal in two days. Moreover, imagine your conference is divided into two streams. Sometimes the participants don’t know which lecture is better for them to attend, making it even more difficult for me to approach them at the right place and time.

I started to think that I need to create a martech solution that will be valuable both for me and the participants of the event to make reaching the goal easier. So I did my research and came up with several problems the solution can help to solve:

  • If there are several lecture halls present with speakers giving presentations simultaneously, the audience doesn't know where to go and which lecture is more valuable for them. I realized that I can guess their preferences, but I can’t be 100% sure and it will be great if I can know what topic the audience likes more in advance.
  • The audience is not engaged and there are few network options available. I somehow needed to make the event more interactive and help vendors to connect with the audience, so they could sell their solutions themselves too.
  • The content of the conference is created by engineers to engineers and the broader audience finds it hard to understand the lectures. It’s hard to make an audience interested in your product if people don’t understand what you are talking about. The topics and discussions during the conference needed to be presented differently to the potential customers.

Keeping all these problems and my own in mind I decided to create a marketing technology solution that will help to cover all the issues.

Developing the app for the events

Our team decided to go with a cross-platform mobile app. The goal was to launch the first version of the product for the huge tech forum we organized, test it there with the help of 450 attendees, and then if the solution was a success, introduce it for all our events and events of our vendors and partners. We assumed that organizers of events were our core audience.

The schedule was tough and we had only 4 people on the team, including myself. Only two of us were from a tech background. So we decided to soft launch our solution with some features and add the rest of the functionality later.

Participants needed to register in the app before the actual event.

What was ready for the conference:

  • The event’s agenda was divided into several streams. Each lecture was a stand-alone slot that users can like if they find it interesting. We also set up reminders to notify the attendees at the conference that their favorite lecture is starting soon.
  • Each slot has a complete description of the lecture given, the names of the speakers, and their roles in the company. We also asked vendors to attach files that can summarize or enrich their presentations. Some vendors attached promo videos and brochures, and some even attached price lists. The idea was to help vendors to start selling even before the conference starts.
  • We create a gamification module to engage attendees in the conference activities more. All the activities were focused on interactions with the brands and brand awareness. It was hard to come up with interactivity for the B2B suppliers, but we managed to create several activities:
    1. An exercise bike with VR glasses for the international digital automation and energy management company where you need to build up a speed to win against your competitor. People were pedaling in pairs while generating electricity. The owners of the stand gave small presents to the winners.
    2. A cloud for a company that was selling cloud services similar to Amazon cloud. We built a light cloud and stretched LED wires for people to take photos with a hashtag. The winners were chosen based on their reactions to the photos online.

What features we decided to add later:

  • Virtual rooms for networking via 10, 15, or 30-minute calls. The matching solution was a great decision but it was hard to create on time. We had only a month and a half to build a solution, so we decided to postpone the introduction of such a feature for later.
  • Introduction of virtual business cards for each participant to find your perfect match for networking. The mechanics here were supposed to be Tinder-like. There is a similar service called Brella, but it doesn’t provide you with any statistical data on the attendees' interests, so we can stand out with our solution.
  • Quizzes to support the speakers during their lectures. With this feature, we wanted to bring more interactivity to the presentations.

Shifting the target audience

As I mentioned before, we assumed that our companies themselves are our target audience that will buy our application to register for their events in advance. It was our main mistake because as we learned in the process, such companies prefer to organize their events with the help of event agencies. So we shifted our target audience to them.

It also helped us to solve the question of apps being reusable for the audience. If we partner with organizers, people will be able to see all their events there and choose the ones they’re really interested in.

Finding the key value of the product

There are plenty of event applications that can provide you with schedules and event maps. To stand out and be more valuable we decided to focus on statistical data and analytics. Remember how I was struggling to find which exact topics are more valuable to the audience? We managed to answer this question with the introduction of likes to each slot.

Of course, according to the laws on protecting users' personal data, we couldn’t disclose all the data to our suppliers, but we could share the cohort statistics. For example, we shared which topics were interesting to the banking industry, what files were downloaded more, which games users played, and what topics they liked more.

Upon discovering the key value of our product we also decided on the monetization model. Our closer competitor Brella was taking a lot of money for access and a little commission for matching features and user statistics. We decided to make the starting price small and ask for a huge commission for statistics.

Analyzing the results

In the end, we created the app in 1.5 months, but the outcomes were not so great, because we put all the most important features in the backlog.

We assumed that attendees will be able to network themselves with ease — we were wrong. Instead of postponing networking features, we could’ve postponed gamification ones. We also put too much effort into the design and notifications for users which were used a lot but didn’t monetize at all. For our target audience, the matching and networking features may work a lot better.

The admin panel we came up with was also hard to navigate. We assumed organizers would use this panel to add and manage their events and programs, but it was so hard to master that the only way to add something was to ask our team to do it. We learned that we needed to simplify the route to the key value of our product to help our customers. We also needed to eliminate ourselves from the process to lessen our workload and labor costs.

Still, we made one event with this app and shifted our target audience to event organizers instead of suppliers. We had no crashes during the event and gathered genuinely positive feedback from the users of the app. We also provided some statistics to vendors after the event, which they used in their sales pitches later.

We went to three event organizers afterward to sell our solution, but for the local market our price happened to be too high and agencies were not ready to pay us even when they liked our solution.

Only at this moment, we understood that we need to change our monetization model as well.

Make your solution appealing from the start

This case is a great example of building a great solution the wrong way. There were many factors including lack of time that led to mistakes. Let me summarize all of my findings during this project and what should a marketer do to create a great solution right from the start.

  1. Understand the problem of your audience clearly
  2. If you are building a martech b2b solution and you are a marketer yourself, you can better understand the needs and pains of your target audience. However, you won’t be selling your service directly to marketers, you will be selling it to companies they work for. You need to be extra careful with your pricing model and come up with your “persuasion to buy” tactics in advance. Especially if the value of your solution differs depending on the audience segments.

  3. Come up with flexible monetization models
  4. When working on a solution, you need to think about several monetization models at the time to be able to switch from one to another if something goes wrong. It’s also nice to make your monetization model flexible and appealing to several audiences at once.

  5. Prioritize your tasks and features correctly
  6. Focus on the features that will bring you money. When you’ll earn enough to pay off the development, you’ll be able to add other free features you had in mind.

    Prioritize your tasks. For example, while developing our app we managed to design a marvelous admin panel on time but didn’t have time to implement it. It was hard to use and easy to make many small mistakes in the process. If your customers see such a thing, they may decide to pass on your solution.

  7. Find a person or a team to build your solution or at least discuss it
  8. While you are building a solution it’s important to have somebody knowledgeable about the sphere, the audience, etc. on your team. Someone who can advise you on technologies and help validate your idea with fewer mistakes.

    You can turn to a venture studio or find an advisor to discuss all the necessary things at the moment.

  9. Don’t make the solution too expensive to maintain
  10. When you’re just at the beginning of building your solution, it’s important to make it with as little money as possible. That’s why in our case we decided to use links to the suppliers' materials supporting their lectures instead of storing the actual files. Maintaining storage at that stage was expensive and unnecessary. We just added a preview to each link to make users trust that the attachments are safe to click on.

  11. Give more time to analyzing your competitors
  12. Always research your competitors a lot before building a solution to learn from their mistakes and stand out among them. In our case, we found our competitors, but were in a hurry and looked at their solutions just superficially. Remember to find some competitors from your local market. It will also help you to monetize your app better.

Written by Alena Timofeeva